Americans Bobby Curtis, Jen Rhines claim third-place positions.
Written by: Matt Fitzgerald
CARLSBAD, CA — So much emphasis is placed on the pursuit of records at the Carlsbad 5000 that it’s easy to forget it’s also a race. The finishes of the 2011 Carlsbad 5000 men’s and women’s elite races on Sunday were thrilling reminders that fast times are not the only spoils at stake in the “World’s Fastest 5K”–victories are too. The two finishes were carbon copies of each other, both featuring sprints between Kenyan and Ethiopian rivals, with the Ethiopian coming out on top in both cases. In the men’s contest, it was Dejen Gebremeskel, 21, who broke the tape, in 13:11. On the women’s side, Aheza Kiros, 28, squeaked out a one-second win over Pauline Korikwiang, 23.
The pre-race hype centered on defending champion Eliud Kichoge’s stated intent of breaking the course and world records of 13:00, set in 2000. The 26-year-old Kenyan’s hopes took a hit right before the race started at 12:15, when the winds, which had been calm all morning, began to blow. The plan was for Kipchoge’s countryman and official pacemaker Haran Lagat to run the first mile in 4:06, and he did exactly that. “It was the ideal time,” said Kipchoge, who looked relaxed at that point. Kipchoge and Gebremeskel followed their guide closely, while the best of the rest–American Bobby Curtis and Mexico’s Juan Carlos Romero–came through 10 seconds back.
The three leaders got a bit tangled up in the first of two hairpin turns near the 2K mark. When they came out the other side, Lagat, who had hoped to survive to 3K, fell back. Kipchoge took the lead while Gebremeskel craftily tucked in behind him, out of the wind. “Kipchoge was running for the record, so he accepted that,” the young Ethiopian said.
The second mile of an elite 5000m is always the slowest, even on the track, and in the Carlsbad 5000, the second mile is also the toughest. But Kipchoge’s pace dropped more than expected in that second mile, as he reached the two-mile mark at 8:25, with Gebremsekel still shadowing him. Soon thereafter, the eventual winner pulled onto Kipchoge’s shoulder and the race was really on.
The pair remained shoulder to shoulder into the long home stretch. Gebremeskel, second to Kipchoge last year, found a little more snap in his legs this time and hit the line two seconds ahead of the 2010 world number-one ranked 5000m runner. Gebremeskel’s 13:11 finish time is tied for the fourth-fastest ever for the distance on the roads. “Maybe next year we’ll have a fast time,” he said. Apparently, “fast time” equals “record” in his mind!
Kipchoge was philosophical in defeat. “That’s sport,” he said. “I was really prepared, but I just couldn’t make it.”
Curtis, 26, broke away from Romero, 33, in the final straight to claim third place in 13:48. “It was kind of lonely out there,” said the Ardmore, PA-based runner, who plans to run his first marathon in the fall.
The women’s race lacked a pacemaker, but otherwise unfolded exactly like the men’s race, which started two minutes earlier. The trio that broke away early in the women’s contest was composed of Kiros, who won the 2009 Carlsbad 5000 and finished second last year, Korikwiang, fresh off a seventh-place finish at the World Cross Country Championships, and American three-time Olympian Jen Rhines, 36. The select group hit the first mile together in 4:50. “It was a fast first mile,” said Rhines, who lost contact with the Africans a quarter-mile later at the first hairpin turn.
Kiros and Korikwiang extended their lead steadily from there, thanks to a strong second mile of 4:55. The pair remained glued together when they made the final turn with two-tenths of a mile remaining in the race. They were still together 100 yards from the finish tape, when Kiros found another gear and pulled away, hitting the line one second in front at 15:13.
Having run alone through the last 1.8 miles of the course, Rhines finished third in 15:37. “It went well, she said. This sets me up well for the rest of the season.”
The large and vocal crowds that gathered around the finish line seemed more satisfied with the two close finishes than disappointed by the lack of records. Perhaps next year they’ll see both.